They were overjoyed at seeing the star. – Mt. 2: 10
Over the centuries, stars have meant all sorts of things to people. Astrology represents the attempt to discern some kind of personal fate in the arrangement of the stars. A man was telling his friend that an astrologer had said to him, “Your wife’s second husband will be rich, brilliant & handsome.” The friend asked, “Didn’t it upset you to hear that kind of prediction?” “Yes, it did upset me very much,” the man answered. “I didn’t know my wife had been married before.” Star signs, you see, can mean what we want them to mean.
Something must have been very different, quite unique, about this star to get the magi so intrigued that they would make such an arduous journey. For them, it had a significance that went far beyond its mere appearance. It had an eternal significance.
Epiphany, as you know, means a showing forth, a revelation, a manifestation. The light that broke into the world that Christmas night was brighter than that of any star, but no physical eye could see it. Its importance would not become evident until years later when events evoked the insight that this was no ordinary birth. It marked the beginning of a religious revolution that still reverberates around the world. It permeates our thinking in subtle ways that we take for granted.
NBC Nightly News, for example, started a feature called “Making a Difference” that featured people who are remarkable for their efforts to help their fellow man. It became so popular, that it went from one night a week to virtually every night in the week. This preoccupation with helping others would have bewildered the average Roman citizen in our Lord’s time. Helping the sick, even close relatives, was considered off-limits to their way of thinking. They knew just enough about illness to know that it could be contagious, so the only proper thing to do with the sick was to isolate them.
When a Roman official of any standing did something to benefit the public, it was considered a selfish attempt to promote one’s popularity. This was the background of the remark attributed to the emperor Nero when he said, “Let them have bread & circuses.” He was merely pandering to the cravings of the populace rather than doing anything to help them. Organizations like the Red Cross & Habitat for Humanity would have been unimaginable back then.
This gives us just a glimpse of the light that burst onto the world scene that first Christmas. It was the followers of Jesus that turned the world upside down by asserting in many ways that human beings matter. They have an intrinsic value placed upon them by God, not by us. Whenever we lose sight of that basic idea is when we court disaster, disillusionment & darkness. It is an age-old struggle that is still very much with us. Abortion & euthanasia represent just the tip of the iceberg. The so-called Dark Ages were positively enlightened compared to the horrors engendered by the Twentieth Century & we still live with that legacy.
My mother used to say that each stage of life has its own challenges, & that holds true for the ages of history. As St. John puts it in the opening of his Gospel, “the light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it” (1: 4). That is why it will always be important to recognize the significance of what we celebrate today. It is our job to see to it that that light is kept shining brightly for future generations. AMEN!